GDC 2010: Film, Videogames, and UX Design

Thanks Donald Mustard, for a delightful conversation and for validating my interest in exploring the convergence of Film, Videogames and UX Design” -Me

As a Conference Associate (CA) at the GDC in 2010, I got to attend a lot of cool sessions and make a lot of great friends. I was a bit of an oddball in that most of my experience was in film production while I was doing some User Interface design work for a local game company in Santa Cruz. I was also reading a lot of articles about User Experience Design, Game Design, and film, figuring out how they all fit together – because I suspected they did.

A large topic of conversation was the Hollywood-izing of videogames, mainly in AAA game titles. I had already been tracking this topic in the news (1, 2, 3, 4) for some time though, with great games like Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, Far Cry series, Uncharted, etc. But I knew this went much deeper.

Akira Yamaoka’s Sound Design Lecture was very inspiring for film and videogames and gave me a lot of ideas for my own soundtracks. I was very impressed by his attention to detail, and his discussions of various sonic “illusions”, that really transcend any medium. One example from his work on Silent Hill was the use of delaying sound effects or playing them before an incident occurred, to create tension, based on human perceptions of timing. This was very similar to J and L cuts in film editing, and cognitive theory for UX Design. In fact, J and L cuts serve almost literally the same function, although they’re mostly used to smooth out transitions in a story (though in Punch Drunk Love, it’s for tension and shock).

One standout moment though was Donald Mustard’s presentation on Shadow Complex, a breakout hit on Xbox Live Arcade in mid-2009. His presentation detailed the process by which they developed the game, which I found really inspiring. Some key points were:

  • Working as a small team
  • Quick planning sessions (“plan smart”)
  • Rapid prototyping
  • Minimal design documentation

(Sounds a lot like UX Design!) This was all very inspiring, but I fell in love when he literally said making the game was “like making a film”, and that there is a heavy emphasis on “pacing, timing, and flow” in both mediums. His rapid prototyping process was what he called “gesture[ing] it all in”, which he likened to the process of “creating animatics and storyboards” “so they know how it flows through”.

He went on to describe the formation of the game’s “core” through rapid prototyping and the iterative process that followed as something similar to film editing, in which you make “smart cuts”. He called it “find[ing] the fun” and the editing process of “cutting early” and “cutting deep”.

I was really impressed, so after his presentation, I went up to him to share my appreciation for Shadow Complex. I also shared my perspective that no matter what happens in the future with money and resources, he shouldn’t allow any success to get in the way of the quick creative process that made Shadow Complex so unique and exciting. He was really grateful for my comments and asked my name and what I did. So I explained by background in film, doing set design and animatics and how I was expanding into videogames, and he told me that I sounded like a User Experience Designer. We then talked a bit about how all of the industries are parallel to each other and share a lot of processes and ideas and I could probably work across all of them doing Design. I thanked him for his kind words and he said it was really nice to meet me and he hopes he’ll hear from me in the future.

That was a pretty powerful moment and helped legitimize a lot of the dots I was connecting across all of the different industries.

When it really comes down to it, Film was one of the first mediums to combine other mediums together – painting, sculpting, theater, writing, music, photography. As technology progressed it integrated others as well like animation and computer graphics. Videogames do the same, but with an additional experiential component. UX Design is essentially an aggregate of tools to complete projects like a film or videogames. All three utilize storyboards, prototypes in some way, an understanding of people’s motivations, storytelling and experience, visual design, sound design, etc.

Thanks Donald Mustard, for a delightful conversation and for validating my interest in exploring the convergence of Film, Videogames and UX Design.


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